The Joy of the Lord Is Your Strength

How often do we encourage one another with words like this:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Not often enough for us to feel the closeness and joy that comes when church family loves as they should. This week, imagine ways to inspire others to be happy by choice, joyful in spite of pain, and at peace when the world is in chaos.

This is our inheritance. We’re able to do the things the rest of the world cannot. Take strength from the joy of the Lord. And encourage others to do the same.

That’s NOT what I asked for!

(Note: Read this one all the way to the end or it might frustrate you.)

Have you ever prayed, and then second-guessed your prayer? Ending it with something like,

“…but if that will be bad for me or anyone else, then just have your will. Amen.”

Yeah, I have too. And with good reason.

At least at first glance. We don’t know what’s best for our lives – not to mention what’s best for others’ – or how any of it comes together in the future. We can only pray for what we think is best at the time. Right?

Here’s why prayer used to make me nervous

While reading about Hezekiah I came across something curious in
2 Kings 20:1-11:

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.”

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

Oh! My hands go to my heart in adoration of the God who sees our hurts and grants us our requests! Hezekiah indeed gets well and lives another fifteen years, bearing a son named Manasseh in that time and reigning in peace until his death.

Now doesn’t that just sound so rosy? Except that…

During his happy and peaceful remaining reign, King Hezekiah gave away some pretty hefty kingdom secrets – knowing that he would have no repercussions in his lifetime – which came back to bite future generations.

surprise
Not only that, but the son he bore (Manasseh the baby-killer) was the vilest and most evil Judean king of all time. Because of the things Manasseh taught the people to do, they were never able to recover spiritually. Like…ever.

You wanna say, “Okay, Lord. You should’ve just knocked Hezekiah off. If I EVER ask you for something, and you KNOW I’ll do stupid things with it…PLEASE don’t give it to me!”

But wait, there’s more

Then there is the Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael scenario. You know the story. Abraham decides Hagar the Handmaiden is his best bet for offspring (as opposed to continuing to wait on God). Thus, she bears his offspring, which gets her promptly thrown out of the house – twice.

So out in the hot sun with her son Ishmael and nowhere to go, Hagar cries out to God – all she asks is that she doesn’t have to see her son suffer.

God (and we hear her call him “The God Who Sees Me” here) tells her that her son will not only live – but will become a great nation.
surprise
Now, I don’t know about you. But if I were Hagar today, looking down from heaven on the great nation her son has become (think of every violent nation in the Middle East)…well, I’d be a bit irritated with my grandchildren.

“Lord, by ‘great’ did you just mean ‘lots of them’? Because I’m not thinking the situation in the Middle East is very ‘great’ right now – or has been made better by my progeny.”

And then the other side of things

Then to the Prayer of Jabez – that little book that got so much attention about 10 years ago.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Okay, now here is a prayer I can copy! He asks for many things, but not for himself alone. He wants God to work on his behalf, so that others may be blessed and not hurt through him.

That’s how I want to pray – always mindful of God’s Word, His will, and the people around me. A prayer like that will not end in destruction.

Or will it? The truth is…

God does see us. He hears our hurts and our longings, and He hears them now – in our present. He reaches down from heaven to show us how much He loves us, and grants our requests. And the truth is that oftentimes, we mess things up ourselves. While He uses what we ask for to bring about circumstances we never could have foreseen – or wanted – He has a grander purpose than we could ever imagine.

But that’s the point. He’s God. I’m not.

I can walk closely with Him and pray without ceasing and never ask amiss – but He will still have His way. And, really, that’s why we pray isn’t it? To be a part of His magnificient plan – knowing that His way is the best way. Whether we see it or not.

And truly, what we see now as the foolishness and idiocy of Hezekiah and Abraham seemed right to them at the time. I thank God that my biggest mistakes and failures are in His hands. He can take something disgusting (more likely stupid) and use it to accomplish His purpose. A purpose which is for my good.

So, praise God. (And thank heaven I’m not Him!)

End result? Pray. Speak to your Maker as often as possible. Tell Him your hopes and your hurts, and when it looks like the world is ending, praise Him for this confidence:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

“All things” include your foolishness and blindness. Your sin and greatest shame. All things. He uses them to work something good for you. And, with that, go and rest. Pray before you sleep.

Stop Worrying in 1 Easy Step

Charles Spurgeon explained God’s sovereign will (His plan) and Man’s free will are welded alongside one another like railroad tracks. They are each unique, and they are always following the same path.

RailRoad Tracks

God’s plan & Man’s free will run parallel like railroad tracks.

This shook my world. I work so hard to be on the right path and fear failing Him when I veer from it. But…
If I can’t screw up His plan…
If other’s bad choices won’t ruin my life…
If I can’t cause my life to shift irrevocably away from God…
Continue reading

Mercy Triumps Over Judgment

I once had someone tell me that this verse did not exist. But it is truth.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgment.

This is not to say that we are to accept sin in those we love. Only that we are to offer mercy and grace when faced with a repentant heart, and often, in anticipation of it.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13

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“God, didn’t I tell you not to raise my hopes?”

“Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” 2 Kings 4:19-28
Hope
Have you ever felt like that? You prayed for something, and – just when you finally accepted that God had answered your prayer, just when you relaxed in His love – He rips it out from under you?

Look at where this woman found hope, and go looking yourself.

This is the story of the Shunamite woman.

She’d been barren. It was a curse. Humiliating. But she’d grown accustomed to the feeling. Time had worn on as it does and left her with an aging husband and plenty of fertile land. She’d met Elisha and wanted to help the Man of God. So she spent much expense and effort to offer him his own living space in her home.

Elisha wants to reward her with a blessing in return and, as he and his servant realize the only thing she is lacking is a child of her own, he prophesies that by the same time next year, she will have a son. To their surprise, she rejects the idea!

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”

For whatever reason (we can only guess) she was terrified to get her hopes up. But, Elisha’s words were true, and a year later she gave birth to a son. Fast forward enough years that the child is able to hang out with his dad in the fields.

And her greatest fear happens:

He said to his father, “My head! My head!”
His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.”
…the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.
She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.

…So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel…

When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”

(And here it is) “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?” 2 Kings 4:19-28

The story doesn’t end there. Elisha returns with her, and (through some interesting prayer maneuvers) raises her son to life again. There’s some sneezing involved, and Elisha calls the woman to take her living son from Elisha’s room. All’s well that ends well, right?

But here’s the point.

Instead of blaming God and getting angry and hateful – she went right to God (well, the best connection she had to God before Christ). She fell at his feet and told him how hurt she was. It was not pretty. But it showed her heart. And God answered.

THAT IS WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE!

God saw her hurting heart, her pain, and her willingness to boldly bring it before him without fear. And this time, He answered with grace (undeserved favor). But no matter how He answers you in this moment, He is there.

He is there with you through the hurt. The pain. The confusion. The loss of all hope. He is there with you. And He understands. Not only that, but He’s the only on who knows what’s coming up. He’s there in your past. He’s there with you now. And He’s waiting in your future. Smiling. Because He knows. He wrote Romans 8:28 for a reason. Your good. Your life.

Now. What are you hurt about? What galls you so bad that you won’t even speak to God about it? Just stop. Take a deep breath and tell him how it feels.

I am NOT promising God will answer you something as awesome as a loved one’s resurrection. But I am saying that if you are hurting, you’d better talk to the only one who knows and has already resolved the struggles in your mind. Your heavenly Father. Take it. Leave it there. Walk away in peace. He’s got this.

The end of the story that no one ever reads!

Okay, so this is so cool! Read what happens to the woman and her son years later.

The Shunammite’s Land Restored
Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years.”

The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.

At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to appeal to the king for her house and land.

The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.”
Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to appeal to the king for her house and land.
(Right? Because He’s that awesome! It gets better.)

Gehazi said, “This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” The king asked the woman about it, and she told him.

Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, “Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now.”

Walk in it, people. He is YOUR God. He is good. And He loves us. Praise the name of Jesus and rejoice. And go before Him when you think He’s gotten your hopes up just to dash them on the rocks of life’s pain.

Yes. It hurts right now.
But you can only see and feel right now. Go to the one who knows.
Rest in Him.

Can this happen here?

This is uncharacteristic of me to use someone else’s story in a post, but it needs to be shared.

If you hold concerns for America, but wonder if your fears are founded, read this with an open mind. Because this woman was there. Here is her story…
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I cannot tell you that Hitler took Austria by tanks and guns; it would distort history.

If you remember the plot of the Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family escaped over the Alps rather than submit to the Nazis. Kitty wasn’t so lucky. Her family chose to stay in her native Austria. She was 10 years old, but bright and aware. And she was watching.

“We elected him by a landslide – 98 percent of the vote,” she recalls.

She wasn’t old enough to vote in 1938 – approaching her 11th birthday. But she remembers.

“Everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks and took Austria by force.”

No so.

Hitler is welcomed to Austria.

“In 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly one-third of our workforce was unemployed. We had 25 percent inflation and 25 percent bank loan interest rates.

Farmers and business people were declaring bankruptcy daily. Young people were going from house to house begging for food. Not that they didn’t want to work; there simply weren’t any jobs.

“My mother was a Christian woman and believed in helping people in need. Every day we cooked a big kettle of soup and baked bread to feed those poor, hungry people – about 30 daily.

“We looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany, where Hitler had been in power since 1933.” she recalls. “We had been told that they didn’t have unemployment or crime, and they had a high standard of living.

“Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group – Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone in Germany was happy. We wanted the same way of life in Austria. We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment and help for the family. Hitler also said that businesses would be assisted, and farmers would get their farms back.

“Ninety-eight percent of the population voted to annex Austria to Germany and have Hitler for our ruler.

“We were overjoyed,” remembers Kitty, “and for three days we danced in the streets and had candlelight parades. The new government opened up big field kitchens and
everyone was fed.

“After the election, German officials were appointed, and, like a miracle, we suddenly had law and order. Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.

“Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn’t support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated that they could retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up for marriage.

“Then we lost religious education for kids.

“Our education was nationalized. I attended a very good public school.. The population was predominantly Catholic, so we had religion in our schools. The day we elected Hitler (March 13, 1938), I walked into my schoolroom to find the crucifix replaced by Hitler’s picture hanging next to a Nazi flag. Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told the class we wouldn’t pray or have religion anymore. Instead, we sang ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles,’ and had physical education.

“Sunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance. Parents were not pleased about the sudden change in curriculum. They were told that if they did not send us, they would receive a stiff letter of warning the first time. The second time they would be fined the equivalent of $300, and the third time they would be subject to jail.”

And then things got worse.

“The first two hours consisted of political indoctrination. The rest of the day we had sports. As time went along, we loved it. Oh, we had so much fun and got our sports equipment free.

“We would go home and gleefully tell our parents about the wonderful time we had.

“My mother was very unhappy,” remembers Kitty. “When the next term started, she took me out of public school and put me in a convent. I told her she couldn’t do that and she told me that someday when I grew up, I would be grateful. There was a very good curriculum, but hardly any fun – no sports, and no political indoctrination.

“I hated it at first but felt I could tolerate it. Every once in a while, on holidays, I went home. I would go back to my old friends and ask what was going on and what they were doing.

“Their loose lifestyle was very alarming to me. They lived without religion. By that time, unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for Hitler.

“It seemed strange to me that our society changed so suddenly. As time went along, I realized what a great deed my mother did so that I wasn’t exposed to that kind of humanistic philosophy.

“In 1939, the war started, and a food bank was established. All food was rationed and could only be purchased using food stamps. At the same time, a full-employment law was passed which meant if you didn’t work, you didn’t get a ration card, and, if you didn’t have a card, you starved to death.

“Women who stayed home to raise their families didn’t have any marketable skills and often had to take jobs more suited for men.

“Soon after this, the draft was implemented.

“It was compulsory for young people, male and female, to give one year to the labor corps,” remembers Kitty. “During the day, the girls worked on the farms, and at night they returned to their barracks for military training just like the boys.

“They were trained to be anti-aircraft gunners and participated in the signal corps. After the labor corps, they were not discharged but were used in the front lines.

“When I go back to Austria to visit my family and friends, most of these women are emotional cripples because they just were not equipped to handle the horrors of combat.

“Three months before I turned 18, I was severely injured in an air raid attack. I nearly had a leg amputated, so I was spared having to go into the labor corps and into military service.

“When the mothers had to go out into the work force, the government immediately established child care centers.

“You could take your children ages four weeks old to school age and leave them there around-the-clock, seven days a week, under the total care of the government.

“The state raised a whole generation of children. There were no motherly women to take care of the children, just people highly trained in child psychology. By this time, no one talked about equal rights. We knew we had been had.

“Before Hitler, we had very good medical care. Many American doctors trained at the University of Vienna..

“After Hitler, health care was socialized, free for everyone. Doctors were salaried by the government. The problem was, since it was free, the people were going to the doctors for everything.

“When the good doctor arrived at his office at 8 a.m., 40 people were already waiting and, at the same time, the hospitals were full.

“If you needed elective surgery, you had to wait a year or two for your turn. There was no money for research as it was poured into socialized medicine. Research at the medical schools literally stopped, so the best doctors left Austria and emigrated to other countries.

“As for healthcare, our tax rates went up to 80 percent of our income. Newlyweds immediately received a $1,000 loan from the government to establish a household. We had big programs for families.

“All day care and education were free. High schools were taken over by the government and college tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free handouts, such as food stamps, clothing, and housing.

“We had another agency designed to monitor business. My brother-in-law owned a restaurant that had square tables.

“Government officials told him he had to replace them with round tables because people might bump themselves on the corners. Then they said he had to have additional bathroom facilities. It was just a small dairy business with a snack bar. He couldn’t meet all the demands.

“Soon, he went out of business. If the government owned the large businesses and not many small ones existed, it could be in control.

“We had consumer protection, too

“We were told how to shop and what to buy. Free enterprise was essentially abolished. We had a planning agency specially designed for farmers. The agents would go to the farms, count the livestock, and then tell the farmers what to produce, and how to produce it.

“In 1944, I was a student teacher in a small village in the Alps. The villagers were surrounded by mountain passes which, in the winter, were closed off with snow, causing people to be isolated.

“So people intermarried and offspring were sometimes retarded. When I arrived, I was told there were 15 mentally retarded adults, but they were all useful and did good manual work.

“I knew one, named Vincent, very well. He was a janitor of the school. One day I looked out the window and saw Vincent and others getting into a van.

“I asked my superior where they were going. She said to an institution where the State Health Department would teach them a trade, and to read and write. The families were required to sign papers with a little clause that they could not visit for 6 months.

“They were told visits would interfere with the program and might cause homesickness.

“As time passed, letters started to dribble back saying these people died a natural, merciful death. The villagers were not fooled. We suspected what was happening. Those people left in excellent physical health and all died within 6 months. We called this euthanasia.

“Next came gun registration. People were getting injured by guns. Hitler said that the real way to catch criminals (we still had a few) was by matching serial numbers on guns. Most citizens were law-abiding and dutifully marched to the police station to register their firearms. Not long afterwards, the police said that it was best for everyone to turn in their guns. The authorities already knew who had them, so it was futile not to comply voluntarily.

“No more freedom of speech. Anyone who said something against the government was taken away. We knew many people who were arrested, not only Jews, but also priests and ministers who spoke up.

“Totalitarianism didn’t come quickly, it took 5 years from 1938 until 1943, to realize full dictatorship in Austria. Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism. Now, our only weapons were broom handles. The whole idea sounds almost unbelievable that the state, little by little eroded our freedom.”

“This is my eyewitness account.

It’s true. Those of us who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to a country of unbelievable freedom and opportunity.

America is truly is the greatest country in the world. Don’t let freedom slip away.

After America, there is no place to go.”
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This is an eyewitness account of the time by Kitty Werthmann. If you’ve read any other autobiographies from this time, you will know how accurate she is. Please learn to think clearly, to recognize truth, and to run from evil – not trade freedom for peace.